Virtual Reality (VR)

What is VR?

Virtual reality (VR) is a fully computer-generated, simulated 3D world, into which the user is immersed via the use of advanced software and hardware. This comes in the form of virtual reality headsets with audio, controllers, and even haptic gloves and full-body suits, so the user can feel as well as see inside VR. Using VR, designers can create digital worlds for almost any purpose, be it educational, industrial, medical, tourism or commercial (real-estate) or, most commonly, for entertainment purposes. Some headsets require external base station sensors to track the user in space, while standalone systems use inside-out tracking with cameras that map the space.

Commonly the experience recreates a first-person experience, so the user is transported to another place. Examples include a virtual museum, or video games, where a user can be anything the developer can dream up. Virtually Reality is almost always from a first-person perspective, which aids in the immersion of feeling as if the user is in a digitally created world.

Virtual reality headsets can either be powered by an external desktop PC, to which it can be connected via cable or wirelessly, or they can be a standalone, portable device, with the hardware built directly into the headset. These are typically less powerful but have the advantage of being lighter and are easier to use. Virtual reality is highly demanding in terms of hardware resources, as creating a sense of realism requires a high pixel count at high refresh rates, which is especially challenging in a battery-powered wireless headset. 

Who uses virtual reality?

Virtual reality is continually becoming more popular and is being used across many different industries for entertainment, training, engineering, and the list goes on. Here are some of the most common uses of VR today.

Gaming: probably the most enjoyable way to experience VR is through gaming. The gaming industry is, in fact, the driving force behind VR development; it’s also a great testing ground for those working on it. With a VR headset, headphones, VR controllers, and a PC or console that allows you to play a VR game, you can fully immerse yourself in a whole new virtual environment.

Training: from the most entertaining to the most useful use of VR. Instead of using real-world equipment and resources, VR can replicate this and save both costs and time by offering a unique way of learning and developing new skills. For example, VR has been embraced in military training, including flight simulation, virtual boot camps, and medic training. This use of VR can be seen in many other areas and is a hugely beneficial tool in training and education.

Engineering: although not as prominent as in other fields, VR is slowly changing some perspectives in engineering. VR has been known to be used to aid in the design of complex machinery and tools. This allows for mistakes to be made without losing real resources and allows for a more detailed approach by using a virtual environment to easily move, expand, and copy areas that would otherwise be time-consuming. A common example would be car design and manufacturing. As car design can be very complex, the use of VR makes certain aspects more efficient. Using a real-world car manufacturer as an example, Land Rover is using VR to help design the future of their cars.

The difference between AR, MR and VR

AR, VR, and MR are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. To put it simply, here is how all three are different:

AR (Augmented Reality) adds digital elements and media to a live view, usually using a camera on a smart device or lenses. A popular example of this is Pokémon Go, but it has many applications.

MR (Mixed Reality) combines parts of both AR and VR, using real-world and digital elements, allowing them to interact. An example of this is using a virtual avatar, controlled by a user who is somewhere else in the world, that interacts with others in a real-world environment.

VR (Virtual Reality) usually requires complete immersion in an experience outside of our physical world. Using VR devices such as Oculus Rift, Meta Quest, or HTC Vive, the users’ visuals and audio are fully experienced through a virtual world or setting. This means you can transport yourself into a fantastical environment that you would not be able to do otherwise, so is commonly used for gaming.